California is a paradise for those who love being outdoors. Its size and diversity provide a range of activities unmatched in North America, and the temperate climate in most of the state means that many of these activities are available year round.
Each aspect of the state lends itself to activity. The longest coastline in the United States offers beach and watersports galore along with some of the most breathtaking coastal golf courses in the world. The three active volcanoes lend their slopes to up and downhill sports, the deserts to trekking and climbing and the national parks can be viewed from horseback or from the air.
What greater pleasure can you imagine than seeing deer, hawks, dolphins, and whales on the same bike ride? Welcome to California’s varied landscape, where the same 30-mile loop takes you along the ocean and through the forest. Small wonder that California is a cyclist’s paradise. Like dirt? Not to name-drop, but Marin’s Mt. Tamalpais gave birth to mountain biking. Check out the state’s other knobby-tire nirvanas— Downieville , Mt. Shasta , Death Valley, and Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park , with its gondola ride to the mountain summit and 90-plus miles of trails. Heaven can be discovered just as easily on the road. Pedal by the wine grapes coveted the world over, within view of towering snowcapped peaks, or on a certain famous bridge alongside the sparkling Pacific. The world’s top professionals in California’s prestigious Amgen Tour of California have to ride by them all, but you can pick and choose. And you can stop to enjoy breakfast, shop at a farmers’ market, or even wonder at a passing deer or a whale.
Camping is one of the most affordable summer getaways and provides some of the greatest family memories. Whether your group is roughing it by the sea or travelling in a recreational vehicle to the desert, valley or mountains, California offers a wide variety of campgrounds and camping resorts that fit every budget.
The massive trees at Sequoia National Park, the quirky cactus in Joshua Tree National Park and the moonlit face of Yosemite's Half Dome-these are just a smattering of views you can enjoy from your tent flap. Twenty percent of California's land is protected, and plenty of it is available for a vast range of camping options. Choose the convenient route and park the RV, and your family, at the edge of Lake Tahoe. Or hoist a backpack and head for the backcountry of the Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, where you can hike to a swimming hole framed by a granite gorge. You can even take a boat out to one of the five islands of Southern California's Channel Islands National Park and camp where sea lions outnumber campers a thousand to one.
"It's not too late to take advantage of the Golden State's diverse campgrounds," says Executive Director Caroline Beteta of the CTTC. "It's an easy getaway that the whole family will enjoy..."
Mendocino Campground off Highway One Just south of Mendocino in the North Coast Region is the Mendocino Campground off Highway One. This popular site offers 60 campsites, beaches, hiking trails, biking and canoe rentals, and incredible coastal views. Guests at the Willits/Ukiah KOA Camp Resort outside of Willits can catch a ride on the Skunk Train as it travels through redwood forests to the coast. Overnight facilities include RV sites, shaded tent sites, cabins and a new lodge that accommodates up to six people. The campground resort features an Old West theme with a swimming pool, fishing pond, petting zoo, mini golf, playground, arcade, bike rentals, disc golf course, hiking trails, horse training facility and summer recreation program for children. Located minutes from historic downtown Petaluma, the San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA Camping Resort provides RV sites, tenting area, a grassy group area, two meeting rooms, free wi-fi, pool, spa and new farm-themed playground. Kids will also enjoy hay wagon rides, a shuffleboard court, arts and crafts, waterslides, live bands, magicians, balloon art and a petting farm/animal education centre. At Clear Lake State Park, guests can choose from 150 camp sites that include tables, food lockers, fire rings, restrooms, showers, a trailer dump station and boat launching ramp.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway No visit to Palm Springs, part of the Desert Region, is complete without a ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where visitors can camp at the top of Mount San Jacinto. There are six campgrounds that require permits from the U.S. Forest Service. Round Valley Campsite is located 2,770 metres above the desert floor and three kilometres from the Tram Station. Strawberry Junction is situated 16 kilometres from the Tram Station. Camping at the top of the Tram offers spectacular views and a unique opportunity to view the flora and fauna of California.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area Visitors to the Golden State can camp on the dunes in San Luis Obispo County, part of the Central Coast Region. Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only state park in California where vehicles may drive on the beach. The site is located south of Pismo Beach within the 15,000-acre Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex. Aside from camping, the dunes offer visitors other recreational pursuits, such as swimming, surfing, hiking, surf fishing and bird watching. Hummer tours, ATV rentals and horseback riding are also available. Campers must bring in their own water and haul out their trash. Chemical or vault toilets are provided. Bordering Santa Clara River Estuary National Preserve, McGrath State Beach Park has 174 seaside campsites in addition to a hike and bike area. Three kilometres of beach provide surfing and fishing opportunities, as well as one of the best bird-watching areas in California. The Channel Islands are one of Ventura's more popular attractions. Multiple-day camping is available on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, East Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands. Beach camping is allowed on Santa Rosa Island.
Mono County Put a little elevation into your camping in Mono County, located in the High Sierra Region. The Inyo National Forest lists 1,722 sites at 56 campgrounds, all of which are situated at an elevation of 2,200 metres or higher. One of the most remote of these sky-bound encampments is Trumbull Lake Campground, which at elevation of 2,940 metres, is nestled amidst the lodge pole pines of Virginia Lakes Canyon. Donner Memorial State Park on Donner Lake in North Lake Tahoe is an ideal 154-campsite campground and is popular with hikers, rock climbers, beach goers, campers, wake boarders, water skiers and anglers. Camping enthusiasts seeking to get away from it all this summer will enjoy the variety of sites Mariposa County has to offer. The Lake McClure and McSwain recreation areas offer more than 600 spacious campsites, each with its own BBQ grill and table, and many with shade ramadas, cupboards and RV hookups. For those who prefer to camp on a lake, the Barrett Cove Marina on Lake McClure has year-round houseboat and patio boat rentals.
Huntington Beach With twelve kilometres of white-sand beaches, a vibrant downtown and easy access to the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, part of the Orange County Region, is the perfect spot for RV campers. Just remodelled to include new facilities, the Sunset Vista Recreational Vehicle Campground, a 46-space campground, offers the closest location to downtown. Water and electrical hook-ups, as well as a dump station, are available. Bolsa Chica State Beach RV Campground is open year-round and offers electrical and water hook-ups and a dump station. The site is next to Dog Beach, where four-legged tourists can play in the surf off their leashes. Huntington By the Sea RV Resort is also open year-round and located across the street from Huntington State Beach. The resort has 140 sites with full hook-ups and can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length.
Plumas-Eureka State Park Perhaps the best-kept secret within California State Parks is the Plumas-Eureka State Park located in the Shasta Cascade region. Just eight kilometres west of Graeagle, the 4,500-acre park is situated at the foot of Eureka Peak. The park features unmatched landscapes, a myriad of hiking trails leading to four lakes, and a 67-site, forest-laden campground along Jamison Creek with showers and an amphitheatre. The park's museum offers a variety of interpretive programs, which include tours of a miner's home, a partially restored stamp mill, demonstrations at a blacksmith shop and bird watching.
Two Harbors Campground The Two Harbors Campground just outside of the village of Twin Harbors, part of the Los Angeles County Region, offers both tent camping and unique tent cabins. The campground sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Catalina's Isthmus. It features 42 individual sites and three group-camping areas. For visitors' convenience, rangers rent equipment and sell firewood, charcoal and propane. Facilities include showers, chemical toilets, fresh water, lockers, BBQ and fire pit, picnic tables and sunshade. Tent cabins sleep up to six people and include cots, camp stove, lantern, picnic table and BBQ fire ring.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park Part of the San Francisco Bay Area Region, Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz is home to the largest continuous stand of ancient redwoods south of San Francisco, encompassing 18,000 acres of old growth and recovering redwood forest. The park offers more than 128 kilometres of trails that meander alongside creeks, waterfalls, and giant trees, and features family and group camping, tent cabins, backpacking camps, hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. At Manresa State Beach in La Selva, the wide expanses of pristine coastline are dotted with sandpipers. Surf fishing and surfing are popular, but visitors can also camp on the bluffs or inland among the pines.
San Elijo State Beach Located on the San Diego Coast, San Elijo State Beach, part of the San Diego County Region, offers swimming, surfing and picnicking. The narrow, bluff-backed stretch of sand has a nearby reef popular with snorklers and divers. The park features family campsites and accommodates trailers up to 35 feet in length and has wireless access. Palomar Mountain State Park in Palomar Mountain features spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, in addition to rustic camping, hiking, and fishing for trout in Doane Pond. Coniferous forests cover much of the park's 1,897 acres, in contrast to the dry lowlands surrounding the mountain. The Palomar Observatory is located twelve kilometres east of the park. Camping is available at Cedar Grove Group Camp and Doane Valley Family Campground.
Three Rivers Hideway Three Rivers Hideaway in Three Rivers on the Kaweah River, located in the Central Valley Region, is a full-service RV park, campground and motel and is situated just five kilometres from Sequoia National Park and eight kilometres from Lake Kaweah. For a quick camping getaway, many visitors and local residents head to Lake Lodi in Lodi for swimming, camping, fishing, sailing, biking and hiking. For bird watching, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Willows is a good pick. This site is wheelchair accessible and also offers horseback riding, biking, hiking and swimming.
Auburn State Recreation Area In the heart of the Gold Country Region, the Auburn State Recreation Area in Auburn covers 64 kilometres of the North and Middle Forks of the American River. Once teeming with thousands of gold miners, the site is now a nature area offering a wide variety of recreational opportunities to more than 500,000 visitors a year. Major recreational uses include hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, mountain biking, gold panning, horseback riding trails and off-highway motorcycle riding. Whitewater recreation is also very popular on both forks of the river. More than 30 private outfitters are licensed to offer whitewater trips in Auburn State Recreation Area.
Temecula Valley In Temecula Valley, part of the Inland Empire Region, the 6,040-acre Lake Skinner offers 41 developed campsites, 18 developed equestrian campsites with electricity, and 178 full hookups. The lake store provides bait, tackle, fishing licenses, equipment and food. Favourite activities are boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking and swimming. Another popular spot is Vail Lake Resort, 9,000 acres of ancient, shady oak trees, with 350 full hook-up sites and 100 tent sites. This summer, the campground offers free live entertainment in the Village on Saturday evenings.
Useful information Campgrounds often have hook-ups enabling guests to connect their motorhome to mains electricity, water and drainage. Extra facilities such as swimming pool, laundry, general store and sports are often frequently available on site. Pre-planned, pre-bookable camping itineraries and campground directories for a number of California campgrounds. For a full listing of the finest and most diverse collection of natural, cultural, and recreational resources to be found within California, please visit the California State Parks website .
In the far north, you can stand in the Smith River and hope that a world-record steelhead strikes your hand-tied fly. In Redding, and the Sacramento River that runs through it, you can find one of the world’s top trout fisheries. Monster bass swim in Lake Casitas and Clear Lake, and along the San Joaquin River. Prefer the ocean? Cast a line from a pier or a beach, or from sport-fishing boats churning out of Crescent City, Monterey, Oxnard, and every harbour in between. California’s coastal waters host salmon, seabass, yellowtail, and lingcod swirling beneath your line. Want big game? Try hooking into a sailfish off Catalina Island or hop aboard a long-range boat out of San Diego and head to legendary Mexican isles to fish for enormous bluefin tuna. Dangle a line and then see what rises.
Who has not felt the urge, as John Muir put it, to "throw a loaf of bread and pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence"? Succumbing to this impulse in California is as easy as it is fun. California offers just about any kind of hiking terrain you can imagine: desert oases, empty beaches, lava moonscapes, tidal estuaries with world-class bird-watching, and untouched snowfields where you can lay down the first snowshoe tracks.
If you like mountains, try Mt. Whitney or other peaks in Muir’s beloved Sierra Nevada, or Mt. Shasta in the Cascades. You could disappear for months on the Pacific Coast Trail, which snakes the length of California, rarely leaving a national park or forest. Or maybe you’d prefer a serene redwood grove. Want to stay close to the back fence? Within Los Angeles, you’ll find trails where you can look out on a sea of winking city lights while listening to coyotes howl. Point your feet in any direction and let the magic begin.
Hiking is an ideal outdoor activity which requires a minimum of equipment, and the whole of the outdoors is at your feet. The entire state appears to be criss-crossed with hiking trails, from the gentle slopes of the Coast Range to more strenuous climbs up to the summits of Mt Shasta. California’s landscape is particularly unique and fascinating as it is so diverse. It happens to contain both the highest and lowest points in the U.S. (Mount Whitney being the highest and Death Valley being the lowest).
It also has the largest and oldest trees on earth (coast redwoods, giant sequoias and ancient bristlecone pines) – a very impressive sight and not to be missed. The tallest waterfall in North America can also be found in California, which is Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park. California also holds about two dozen national parks, 270 state parks, 19 national forests, over a dozen major mountain ranges and 14 million acres of federal wilderness area; almost 2,000 kilometres of coastline, 32 million acres of forest and 21 million acres of desert. Take advantage of this amazing terrain and pack your hiking boots and camera on your next trip to California.
California has wind and water in every shape and form. San Francisco Bay’s Mach winds are legendary. So are the muscular winds off San Diego and Ventura. Just off Ventura, local sailors tuck into coves on Santa Cruz Island, wiling away the afternoon in a hammock before plucking (in season) the evening’s lobster dinner off the bottom. California’s interior is pocked with lakes made for sailing and windsurfing—from the vast spread of Shasta to the tidy confines of Bass Lake, where children maneuver Sunfish as adroitly as any America’s Cup skipper. If you can’t squeeze a sailboat into your suitcase, nearly every marina offers rentals, from ultralite J-24 racing sloops to 35-foot cruisers that sleep four. Don’t know how to sail? Take lessons . Or let your chartered skipper manage matters, while you heft a cocktail and consider the full moon’s reflection on the water.